By Cynthia Falardeau
Recently, our son, Wyatt, attended the Elkin R. Isaac Research Symposium at Albion College. The event included students like him, rising freshman.
On a crisp spring Michigan morning, I dropped Wyatt off and marveled at his independence and conviction to navigate a new chapter without my husband or me.
Brightly colored daffodils, crocus, and tulips outlined Wyatt’s path into the honors observatory building. As I watched him fade into the early morning sunlight, I felt God’s quiet whisper upon my heart, affirming his plans for our futures.
As a member of the college alumni board, I intended to participate in the symposium, on my own, far away from the shadow of Wyatt. As fate would have it, I got sidelined with an unplanned video conference call, the result of modern-day remote work problems.
Helicopter, Free-Range or Old Enough
Unbeknownst to me, we both intended on attending the same research project presentation, “Behaviors and Feelings of Autonomy, Competence and College Students’ about Parenting Relatedness.”
Fascinated by the concept of autonomy, I started to do my own research and quickly learned about a popular Japanese reality show called, “Old Enough.” Captivated, I found myself consumed by the parenting strategy of raising free-range kids with the desired goal of developing smart, capable kids that enables them to practice autonomy without sacrificing safety.
I confess the concept of sending four-year-old children on errands for their parents, caused me to reflect about my own parenting skills. What exactly is the balance between being a “helicopter” parent and the process of giving children autonomy as toddlers and adolescents?
The Right and Wong Ways of Parenting
There were the early years of applying world-renowned author and educator, Dr. Harry Wong’s mantra, “Practice the procedure!” Dr. Wong’s classroom strategies became my adoptive parenting plan.
Wong’s book,” The First Days of School,” helped me identify ways of supporting Wyatt to overcome challenges with sensory processing and anxiety. We created flashcards that sequenced events as simple as going through security in an airport to the steps involved in self-care.
The Smell of Autonomy
By the time Wyatt attended overnight camp as a middle schooler, he was over my procedure cards. I learned an important lesson that summer of 2015, no one died from not bathing for a week! I felt like a complete failure.
However, Wyatt was exhilarated by his newfound confidence, independence and freedom as a result of smelliness. It was the beginning of his ability to advocate and navigate all things from academics to cross-country air travel.
Summoned by Text
That afternoon, Wyatt texted me, “Mom, meet me in the science center!” I replied, “Olin Hall?” Wyatt replied, “No, Mom, behind the admission’s office. Didn’t you have science classes when you went here?” I text back, “Nope!” A hilarious exchange continued as I recognized Wyatt’s academic aptitude was far more advanced and focused than mine at nineteen years of age.
The simple text exchange was a bit of an affirmation. Perhaps my parenting strategies were not a complete failure.
As Wyatt and I walked through the science complex, we marveled at the diverse body of research presented by honors students. Wyatt remarked, ‘Hey Mom, I attended this interesting session on parenting today.” Not wanting to lead on about my intense interest, I replied, “Oh really?” Wyatt continued, “Well, you and Dad were not exactly helicopter parents.” Again, trying hard to present my best “free-range parent face,” I inquire, “What did the research reveal about our parenting skills?”
The Final Answer
Wyatt let out a deep sigh that pierced my heart with his intensely green hazel eyes, “Mom, it’s not like the study revealed a score for your parenting skills. It’s less about the data and more about the development outcome.” As someone who loves metrics, I replied, “That’s it?” With a firm grip on my shoulder and an even deeper stare, he replied, “Mom, you and Dad have done a good job raising me to my full potential. I can take it from here.”
Cynthia Falardeau lives in Vero Beach, Florida with her husband, Jim and their son, Wyatt. Wyatt will attend Albion College, Albion, Michigan in August 2022 as a Presidential Scholar and a Prentiss M. Brown Honors Student.